Nonprofit organizations offer wonderful programs and services to help individuals with a variety of needs often at no or low cost. It might be surprising to learn that some nonprofits struggle filling the spots for these services. For example, a scholarship program is unable to distribute all of their funding due to a lack of applicants; a library summer reading program has free books to give away but not enough people show up; a community launches a “promise” program to promote college savings accounts with financial matches but parents don’t enroll.
An emerging concept in the social science arena is growing that combines the research of economics and behavior science called “behavioral economics”. Through a meeting at the Wabash County YMCA with Duke University’s Common Cents Lab, some of the Transform Consulting Group team learned more about behavioral economics to improve program outcomes.
Now we realize that most nonprofits don’t have an economist on staff that could review their programs and services to implement behavioral science principles. Fear not. There are some simple solutions that all nonprofits could implement on their own – without an economist on staff – to increase their uptake or enrollment in programming utilizing these simple behavioral economic principles below.
5 Behavioral Economic Principles
- Action-Goals – People have good intentions, but they do not do what they intend to do. For example, families want their children to go to college and intend to put some money away in a college savings account but they never get around to it. Individuals get stuck on a now versus later mindset, and it is difficult for people to imagine long term savings when the current costs are adding up. In order to avoid the action-goals gap, avoid providing more information and help individuals take specific actions towards the program goals. If a family wants to save for college, help them set up a specific savings plan. Connect them with a bank to open a savings account and offer a small deposit to get them started.
- Decision Paralysis – When given too many options, people tend to make the easiest decision, which is often no decision at all. Some programs offer great benefits, but the application process is cumbersome and overwhelming. When was the last time that your nonprofit reviewed all of the steps you are asking clients to complete to receive your program and service? Perhaps there are some items or steps that you can remove or condense to make it less difficult to enroll.
- Personalization – People are more likely to respond to messages or services that are tailored to them. A one size fits all motto does not tailor to everyone. Individuals have different lifestyles and needs. So a program might benefit a variety of people, but what will attract them to the program to begin with and what will help each person along the process? Personal interactions with each client will help create a clear focus of the program and how it relates to and will benefit the client.
- Herding – Behavior is impacted by what others are doing. We are social people and whether or not we realize it, we are socialized based on our environments. If we learn about a neighbor enrolling their child in a camp, then we might do it as well. We watch and listento what others do and often follow. There is a convenience factor here where people are comfortable with what they know. Is your program leveraging the “social” aspect of your programs and services with your current clients and connections? If you have a college savings account program, are the parents who are contributing sharing that message so that the parents in their network realize that others are contributing and it’s a “normal” behavior to do so?
- Reciprocity – People have the inherent desire to help those who have helped them in some way. We like to “pay it back”. If your nonprofit can help an individual or a group, there is a greater chance they will return the favor. They might participate in your fundraisers, join another program within your nonprofit, volunteer, or donate money.
There are many more behavioral economics principles to consider when developing, assessing or improving a program at your nonprofit. If you want to learn about more behavioral economics, visit the Common Cents Lab resources page. Want more help in reviewing your programming and thinking about how to enhance it, we can help! Contact Transform Consulting Group today!
With the continued growth of non-profits over the past several years (as we recently discussed in this blog article), some organizations view themselves in competition with other community organizations. While this might not be the intention of Executive Directors or board members, often non-profits are competing for funding, clients, and even volunteers. However, a new trend is starting to emerge where non-profits are cooperating in partnership and not competing.
Our office is doing a book club, and the current book that we are reading is Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant. In their research of exemplary non-profits across the nation, they identified six effective practices identified in all twelve high-performing non-profits. One of the six effective practices identified is the importance of nurturing the non-profit networks.
All twelve exemplary organizations were not just focused on making their non-profit the best, but working to build formal and informal non-profit networks to advance their mission and cause. Some might think that this is contrary to what makes a high-performing non-profit (to focus externally instead of internally).
Benefits of Cultivating Non-profit Networks
- Greater ability to impact social change
- Increased workforce of allies with shared knowledge and skills
- Expansion of funding opportunities through partnerships
- Unified force working toward common goals
- Extended support outside your organization
- Increased public awareness
Are you interested in developing a non-profit network? Crutchfield and McLeod outline four strategies to nurture this network:
- Grow the pie – Funders are very interested and supportive of joint partnerships for programming and services. Focus on expanding funding for the greater cause over your individual organization in order to achieve greater impact for the cause. This can be done through joint grant applications, redistributing funds to other organizations, or partnering with other non-profits in their fundraising efforts. High-impact non-profits will often serve as the “backbone” fiscal support for the network.
- Share knowledge – Consider other non-profits as allies and share your expertise, research, etc. to strengthen the system. In looking toward a collective impact model, having a network that is consistent with related knowledge only helps further the cause.
- Develop leadership – Often non-profits have one leader that holds all of the knowledge, including historical knowledge of trends and partnerships. It is essential to cultivate the leadership of the next generation across the network. Again, this strengthens the cause by increasing the capabilities of the workforce.
- Work in coalitions – Often the causes that non-profits are working to address are complex and multi-faceted. Once a non-profit network is established, the next step is to broaden the network. It takes a unified community to make change happen and to sustain its impact.
There is no question that leading a non-profit organization is a challenge, and the concept of developing a network of non-profits might seem too hard to conceptualize. Building a strong network of non-profits to collaborate with is a great strategy to expand the social impact of your cause. Looking to other non-profits as allies in the overarching goal of improving the community and offering your strengths to them will create a unified, cohesive network that together can mobilize the entire community and sustain a greater impact.
At Transform Consulting Group, we work with many non-profits on program development, which often includes an emphasis on cultivating partnerships with local organizations. If you are interested in learning more about cultivating partnerships and the collective impact model, contact us today for a free consultation!
Communities across the country are working to revitalize low-income and public housing. Trauma Informed Community Building (TICB) is a new framework for strengthening communities in trauma-affected neighborhoods. It recognizes the ongoing stress and trauma pervasive in communities facing poverty, ongoing violence, isolation, and limited resources.
TICB strategies attempt to de-escalate chaos and stress, build social cohesion, and foster community resiliency over time by acknowledging and validating the real life experiences of low-income and public housing residents. The TICB model addresses the disconnect between meeting the needs of residents in high-poverty neighborhoods and traditional community building programs that leave members feeling isolated and marginalized. Through a partnership with the residents of Potrero Terrace and Annex—one of San Francisco’s largest and most distressed public housing communities—and the Health Equity Institute at San Francisco State University, BRIDGE Housing Corporation has developed a model for community building that starts with community healing as an integral part of neighborhood revitalization.
Five years of experience with community building and re-development work in the “Potrero” community allowed BRIDGE’s project team to identify key objectives that support using a TICB framework to guide neighborhood revitalization initiatives, including:
- Community building needs to be asset-based
- Leverage resources that are already in the community
- Increase the capacity of residents to improve their quality of life and effect positive change
Transform Consulting Group understands that community transformation starts equipping and empowering residents to identify their community assets and develop plans for improvement. Transform Consulting Group has worked with the Martindale Brightwood community in Indianapolis on developing a Promise Neighborhood—turning a neighborhood of concentrated poverty into a neighborhood of opportunity. Contact us today to learn how your organization can apply the latest research to improve lasting transformation.